Whenever I visit Target to pick up something in the toy department, whether it’s a present for my nieces or one of my friends’ kids, I also enjoy stopping in the tiny section at the end that features retro toys, such as the old Fisher Price record player and the classic sock monkey doll. I don’t know what it is…there’s just something about seeing retro toys and other vintage items showcased in a more modern setting.
Maker and Instructables member Mike Gardi gets it – he recently used 3D printing to recreate two of his favorite educational games from the 1960s that are so rare, not to mention expensive, that there’s no way you’d find them anywhere remotely near a mainstream store like Target. His labor of love was detailed in a recent Hackaday post by Tom Nardi.
“Seeing that the educational games which helped put him on a long and rewarding career in software development are now nearly unobtainable, he decided to try his hand at recreating them on his 3D printer,” Nardi wrote. “With his keen eye for detail and personal love of these incredible toys, he’s preserved them in digital form for future generations to enjoy.”
The first game Gardi recreated was “The Amazing Dr. Nim,” which was invented by John Thomas Godfrey and manufactured by Education Science Research (E.S.R., Inc.). According to his Instructable on 3D printing the game, a plastic, injection-molded mechanical Digi-Comp II digital computer is used as a game board, which chooses its moves through “the action of the marbles falling through the levers of the machine.”
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I was inspired by the excellent Digi-Comp I replica created by Mark Ziemer,” Gardi commented on the Hackaday post.
Bits of data are held in memory switches, and several levers, which are affected by released marbles, program the unit. The starting position is set by three levers, and the fourth is an equalizer: if it’s set and the player doesn’t make any mistakes, they win. The final lever shows whose turn it is.
Gardi modeled his replica game using both Fusion 360 and Tinkercad, and while he needed to scale down his version so it would fit on a desktop 3D printer, it was otherwise pretty faithful; however, he did use 10 mm steel ball bearings instead of marbles.
“One other concession was to 3D print the folding stand rather than attempting to employ the wire stand of the original,” Gardi wrote.
He 3D printed all of the parts at a resolution of 0.2 mm out of PLA. While the base unit was printed with 20% infill, everything else was printed at 100%, and Gardi included the STL files for all of the parts in his Instructable. Tools needed to put the game together include tweezers, glue, fine grit sandpaper, and a hobby knife.
Gardi also made a 3D printed version of the “Think-a-Dot” puzzle game, which was invented by Joseph A. Weisbecker and also uses mechanical flip-flops. These levers are used to change the color of the eight dots on the game’s front panel.
When the player drops marbles into the three holes at the top of game board, they can create different patterns by changing the colors of the dots. The winner is the person who can determine the fewest amount of marbles that are necessary to create specific patterns found in the game manual.
“I tell people that I did the modelling with digital calipers, Tinkercad, and patience,” Gardi wrote in his Instructable for the Think-a-Dot replica. “I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. Tinkercad is a very organic experience and it felt more like sculpting to me than 3D design.”
While most of the pieces were 3D printed in PLA, Gardi used PETG to print the eight flip-flops. He also digitized the experience of owning these classic games by creating scans of the manuals, and then had them professionally printed and bound just like they would have been in the ’60s.
“This is really a fascinating way of preserving physical objects, and we’re interested to see if it catches on with other toys and games which otherwise might be lost to time,” Nardi concluded. “As storage capacities get higher and our ability to digitize the world around us improve, we suspect more and more of our physical world will get “backed up” onto the Internet.”
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